Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thomism in Reformed Orthodoxy

Christopher Cleveland, Thomism in John Owen. Aldershot, Ashgate, 2013. 179pp. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Ryan McGraw

Recent scholarship has increasingly mined the medieval roots of Reformed theology. The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas held an essential place in post-Reformation theological education. While various authors accepted, rejected or modified Thomas’s teaching, his influence is important in understanding the development of what is common called Reformed orthodoxy.

This short book is an important contribution to the study of Reformed orthodoxy. Christopher Cleveland traces the influence of Thomas Aquinas and Thomistic authors, both medieval and seventeenth-century, in John Owen’s thought.

He traces this influence in three areas: God as pure act, infused habits of grace, and the hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures. Aquinas used the concept of God as “pure act” to argue for the simplicity of God. The idea is that in God there is actuality and no potentiality. This explained God’s immutability and eternality as well as several other divine attributes. Cleveland shows how Owen used this Thomistic concept to refute Arminians, Socinians, and the Lutheran argument for Christ’s human nature taking on divine attributes, such as ubiquity.

The author then illustrates how Owen used extensively the concept of habits of grace in his massive work on the Holy Spirit. In contrast to Aristotle, Aquinas and Owen taught that some habits did not result from learned behavior. Instead, God infused human nature with natural habits that included the intellectual ability to understand the Scriptures, and he endowed believers with a supernatural habit of grace that enabled them to obey God. This habit of grace is equivalent to the biblical doctrine of regeneration. Cleveland divides this subject into two chapters, the second of which traces the relationship between an infused habit of grace and acts of grace in obedience to Christ in sanctification. For Owen, sanctification consisted of an infused habit of holiness. This infused habit is the source of all actual obedience in the Christian life, making the Christian life a supernatural work of divine grace.

Cleveland then explores Owen’s appropriation of Aquinas in describing the hypostatic union between Christ’s divine and human natures. He concludes his book by showing how, in line with his Thomism, Owen built his theology on a distinctively western trinitarianism (156). This is an important point in light of several attempts in recent literature to trace eastern influences in seventeenth-century trinitarian theology. Owen frequently stands at the heart of these attempts.

There are two significant shortcomings of this work. First, Cleveland provides little analysis or evaluation in his research. He demonstrates the influence of Thomism in John Owen, but most of the book consists of large block citations from Owen, Aquinas, Alvarez, and others. Most of his analysis of this material is merely the regurgitation of secondary sources by way of further block citations. His method is to introduce a block citation and then summarize it in his own words. Instead of shedding light on the significance of the quoted material, readers will walk away from Cleveland’s summaries thinking, “I just read this.” This makes the book unnecessarily repetitive. This feature is ubiquitous in this work. Second, in his treatment of infused habits of grace, he slightly misses Owen’s intent in referring to the “old creation” (79-80). Cleveland states that this phrase designated the Spirit’s work in the “inanimate” creation. However, Owen included Adam’s dependence on the Spirit prior to his fall into sin. Owen argued is several places that Adam’s true failure in the garden was that he stopped actively depending on the Holy Spirit in order to obey God. While Cleveland includes a suggestive statement from Carl Trueman to the effect that Owen’s view has potential parallels to Aquinas’s donum super addadum, he does not appear to pick up on the significance of Thomistic influence in this connection. Thomas believed that Adam naturally tended towards corruption and that God gave him a supper added gift of grace in order to prevent this. When Adam fell, he lost this gift and became corrupted. Owen did not believe that God created Adam with a tendency to corruption, but he did believe that Adam required the supernatural grace of the Spirit to prevent his fall. This is a significant Thomistic influence that the author bypasses entirely and possibly misunderstands.

This book is an important first step in expanding our view of medieval influences on one of the most significant thinkers in Reformed orthodoxy. It provides a useful starting point for further research.


'Ordo Salutis' in Reformed Orthodoxy

J. V. Fesko, Beyond Calvin: Union with Christ and Justification in Early Modern Reformed Theology (1517-1700). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012. Pp. 416. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Ryan McGraw

Soteriology occupied a dominant place in the Protestant conflict with Roman Catholicism. While Reformed theologians rooted salvation in union with Christ in his person and work, they taught a logical order in the application of the benefits of redemption known as the ordo salutis. J. V. Fesko’s Beyond Calvin, explores the Reformed development of the order of salvation as it related to the doctrines of union with Christ and justification. While not without flaws, this work usefully addresses a neglected area of Reformed orthodox historical theology.

Fesko argues for four primary points (29-30, 380-381). First, that Calvin is not normative for the Reformed tradition. Second, that there is no entirely monolithic ordo salutis or doctrine of union with Christ in Reformed orthodoxy. Third, that union with Christ and the ordo salutis are compatible ideas. Last, that Reformed soteriology prioritized justification over sanctification. He defends these points against the claims of Richard Gaffin, and also against authors such as Mark Garcia, William Evans, Lane Tipton, and Herman Ridderbos (17-24, 53-71). The choice of these authors reflects the fact that one of Fesko’s purposes is to use historical theology to address contemporary theological concerns (383-384).

This work proceeds roughly in three stages. Chapters 1 through 5 present the state of the question, the influences of Aristotelian causality on the Reformed ordo salutis, a historical refutation of modern critics of the ordo salutis, the historical development of the ordo salutis, and medieval constructions of union with Christ and justification. Chapters 6 through 18 highlight the relationship between union with Christ and justification in Luther, Melanchthon, Juan de Valdez, Bullinger, Vermigli, Zanchi, Socinus, Perkins, Arminius, Owen, Baxter, Turretin, and Witsius. Beginning with chapter 15 (on Owen), the intra-trinitarian pactum salutis takes a prominent role in Fesko’s argument. Chapter 19 is comprised of a short conclusion.

Beyond Calvin contributes important points to the study of Reformed orthodoxy. For instance, chapter 4 explodes the assertion that the term, ordo salutis, originated in the eighteenth century (80-81, 84-87) as well as the notion that the doctrine was based exclusively upon using Romans 8:30 as a dogmatic proof-text. The term appears early in Reformed history and the concept grew out of a series of inferences drawn from various passages of Scripture. This analysis sheds light on the oft criticized relationship between exegesis and dogmatic formulation in Reformed theology.

In addition, Fesko demonstrates ably both that union with Christ was the ground of the application of the benefits of redemption and that justification logically preceded sanctification. Though he argues extensively that Reformed orthodox writers believed that justification was the cause of sanctification (36-46), he clarifies that “justification is not generative of sanctification” (351). In other words, justification is the “cause” of sanctification in a different sense than union with Christ is, since union with Christ is the ground of all of the benefits of salvation, including justification. Prioritizing union with Christ over justification reflects the historical Reformed records. However, Fesko overstates the case when he says that “for Perkins union with Christ and the ordo salutis are one in the same” (268). For Perkins, as with the other Reformed authors, some elements of the ordo salutis, such as effectual calling and faith, preceded union with Christ. In spite of this deficiency, Fesko draws appropriate attention to the foundational function of union with Christ in historic Reformed soteriology.

This book contains a few substantial faults, including a large number of typographical errors. The chapter on William Perkins is replete with them, especially in the titles of books in the footnotes. A later example of this is its citation of Paul Helm’s work as Calvin Against the Calvinists rather than Calvin and the Calvinists (318).

In addition, Fesko slightly misses his opponents. For instance, he proves that justification and sanctification remain distinct and retain a proper order even though both are grounded in union with Christ (183). While Evans may be guilty of this historical error, Gaffin would likely object to the charge. Even though Gaffin leaves a fuzzy and unsatisfying picture of his own construction of the ordo salutis, he affirms frequently that he does not deny sequence and order in the application of redemption. In either case, this material potentially crosses the bounds between systematic and historical theology.

Most serious is Fesko’s concluding assertion that while union with Christ is the ground justification, “Correlatively, justification is the legal ground of the believer’s union with Christ” (382, emphasis original). He argues this because the eternal pactum salutis included the imputation of Christ’s righteousness by way of decree. This conclusion has no obvious connection to the data presented in the body of this work. Asserting that justification is the “legal ground” of union with Christ by virtue of the eternal decree of God goes beyond the position of the “antinomians” whom Fesko surveyed in chapter 18. Many of those accused of antinomianism rejected eternal justification (375), but in contrast to their Reformed orthodox peers, they believed that justification preceded union with Christ. By making justification “the legal ground” of union with Christ based upon the pactum salutis, Fesko gives the impression that the general tenor of Reformed tradition went beyond some of the most prominent antinomians of the time. On the next page, Fesko warns, “we must not peer down the well of history in an effort to see ourselves” (383). To this reviewer’s knowledge, Reformed orthodox theologians did not refer to justification as the “legal ground” of union with Christ and they would have had difficulty understanding how justification could function in this way.

In spite of this fact, Fesko’s Beyond Calvin succeeds in proving its fourfold thesis and furnishes students with thought-provoking material on a vital aspect of historic Reformed orthodoxy.



The preceding review first appeared in Calvin Theological Journal in 2013.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hope and Solace in Times of Grief

Albert N. Martin, Grieving, Hope, and Solace: When a Loved One Dies in Christ. Adelphi, Md: Cruciform Press, 2011. Paperback.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

Shortly after leaving my first pastorate, our former congregation called a new pastor. The day before his examination at Presbytery, his wife died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving behind four children ranging from ages 4-13. As our friends and this man reeled from this devastating news, we commended Al Martin’s Grieving, Hope, and Solace to them. After the elders purchased this book for every family in the congregation, the Spirit of God used it mightily to comfort his people in Christ. We trust that the Lord will continue to bless it to enable this family and congregation to pick up the pieces and to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

The author and the circumstances surrounding the book make it self-commendable. Al Martin is one of the greatest preachers of our time. The material is based on a series of sermons that he preached following the death of his wife of 42 years. In it he wrestles with how to glorify God in grief.

The most valuable feature of Grieving, Hope, and Solace, is that it leads people through careful step-by-step reflections on Scripture. Among many other things, Martin walks us by the hand through his own meditations regarding what is true for saints who have died, the joy of Christ in heaven over them, and how Scriptures direct us to subdue our emotions through faith in God’s promises and obedience to his commands. He is pastorally sensitive while remaining biblically faithful.

This work will benefit believers and non-believers alike. Martin clearly and persuasively presents the glory of Jesus Christ as the only true source of consolation in life and in death. His experience makes this far removed from a cold exhortation. The principles that he lays down will help believers far beyond the narrow application of losing a spouse. We have given this book to non-believers as an evangelistic tool and it has greatly helped our family in the pain of separation from friends and family as a result of moving across the country. I pray fervently that it would be read as widely as possible and that churches will have piles of copies on hand to give to grieving people. This work will always be timely and contemporary.



The preceding review was first published in Banner of Truth.

Puritans on Pastoring

Joel R. Beeke and Terry D. Slachter, Encouragement for Today’s Pastors: Help from the Puritans. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013. 211 pp. Paperback. $15.00.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

This book offers encouragement both to pastors and to Christians in general. This reviewer expected the authors to present lessons for pastors derived from Puritan works on pastoral theology. While they do draw from such sources, they draw upon their broad knowledge of Puritan writings in general to treat various aspects of the pastoral ministry and Christian living. The authors introduce each chapter with reference to contemporary issues that affect ministers and churches, such as ministerial burnout, discouragement, feeling irrelevant to contemporary culture, and facing unrealistic expectations from the church. This helps readers adapt the wisdom of Puritan ministers to the present generation.

Some of the most helpful features of this book include submitting to God’s will in the trials and blessings of the ministry, the value of keeping spiritual journals, developing ministerial fellowship, freeing ministers to follow their calling as Scripture defines it, and the urgency and importance of the preaching of the Word. The material on journaling struck this reviewer as particularly helpful. I have often found journaling time consuming and unfruitful. However, the Puritans recommended narrowing the focus of journaling to topics such as remarkable providences, recording answered prayers, the comforts that the Lord brings to meet every trial, and similar topics. This is potentially more fruitful than collecting a record of random spiritual experiences that believers are unlikely to consult again.

Most of the trials that ministers face are the same kind of trials that every Christian faces, differing in degree only. I read the chapter on submitting to God’s will while in a hospital waiting room mourning the death of a daughter and waiting for my wife to undergo surgery. The Lord ministered to my soul greatly not only as a minister, but as a Christian in need of communion with God. All believers who prayerfully read this book will simultaneously understand better the trials of their pastors and gain wisdom and encouragement for their own souls.



The preceding review was first published in Banner of Truth.

The Best Method of Preaching

Petrus van Mastricht, The Best Method of Preaching. Trans. Todd Rester. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013. 82pp. Paperback. $10.00.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw
           
Jonathan Edwards stated that Peter van Mastricht’s Theoretico-Practica Theologia was the best book that he had read apart from the Bible (1). Mastricht wrote his theology in order to teach men how to preach better. Each chapter of this massive work includes an exegetical section, a theological section, a polemical section (refuting error), and a practical section. The Best Method of Preaching began as a preface to Mastricht’s larger theological work. Until now, most of Mastricht’s writing was buried in Latin. Todd Rester’s in-process translation of Mastricht’s work will be one of the most important contributions to Reformed churches in our time. The Best Method of Preaching is designed to whet reader’s appetites for more (19).

Mastricht believed that most books on preaching were too long (26). He thought that long tedious books on preaching resulted in long tedious sermons. Rester conveniently divides Mastricht’s counsel on preaching into ten brief chapters. The book expands the four things that Mastricht believed were necessary in preaching: invention, arrangement, elaboration, and delivery (29). Each chapter is filled with good sense, pithy statements, and illustrations of how to construct the parts of a sermon using Colossians 3:1 as a template. Mastricht’s primary goals were to make sermons easy to remember and to promote the practice of piety. The brevity of the book will make it a reference tool to keep on a pastor’s desk for weekly sermon preparation.

It is worth knowing Latin if only to read Mastricht and his mentor, Johannes Hoornbeeck. Lord willing, Mastricht will soon be available in English. I pray that this book on preaching would leave readers hooked and longing for more.



The preceding review was first published in The Banner of Truth.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Role of the Mosaic Covenant

Michael Brown, Christ and the Condition: The Covenant Theology of Samuel Petto (1624-1711) (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 139pp.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

The role of the Mosaic covenant in Reformed covenant theology has always been a difficult question. Members of the Westminster Assembly, such as Edmund Calamy and Samuel Bolton, even disagreed over how to classify the range of views among Reformed ministers. Michael Brown’s study on Samuel Petto contributes to the scholarly exploration of this question in the context of seventeenth-century Reformed orthodoxy. Brown is the pastor of Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, California. He argues that Petto’s view of the Mosaic covenant as a republication of the covenant of works was designed to safeguard the gospel. Although this work is generally well-researched, it lacks precision in discerning the range of seventeenth-century views of the Mosaic covenant. This reviewer hopes to clarify this subject by interacting with Brown’s treatment.

Petto was a Congregationalist and fifth Monarchist (15-18). Brown’s chapters set forth in order Petto’s life and context, his covenant theology in general, Reformed orthodox views of the Mosaic covenant, Petto’s treatment of the Mosaic covenant, and the implications of his teaching for the doctrine of justification. Brown’s title is well-chosen since Petto’s primary contention was that Chris fulfilled all of the conditions of the covenant of grace, making it entirely unconditional to believers. Petto rejected the distinction between the covenant of grace and the covenant of redemption and treated them as eternal and temporal aspects of the covenant of grace (27-33). He believed that this secured the unconditional character of the covenant of grace (111-115).

Petto’s view of the Mosaic covenant is the centerpiece of his book on the covenants. This review will address Brown’s historiography as well as the limitations of his assessment of Petto’s work.

The book is characterized by some historiographical problems. Brown cites Richard Muller as arguing that the Reformed orthodox were “the legitimate and faithful heirs of Calvin” (5). Yet Muller notes, “Calvin’s theology is referenced, not as a norm to be invoked for the examination of the later Reformed tradition, but as part of an antecedent complex of earlier Reformed formulations lying in the background of many aspects of the latter Reformed positions” (Richard A. Muller, “Diversity in the Reformed Tradition,” Michael A.G. Haykin and Mark Jones, eds., Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates Within Seventeenth Century Reformed Orthodoxy, Gottingen, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecth, 2011, 12). Moreover, he defines Puritanism almost exclusively in terms of ecclesiology and makes no mention of piety or holiness a central theme (9). However, in spite of the ambiguity surrounding the term, scholars almost universally recognize personal piety as a central element of Puritanism.

In addition, he treats an “eschatological goal” in the covenant of works as the standard Reformed position (36). However, he does not recognize the significant diversity among the Reformed orthodox regarding whether Adam’s reward was heavenly or earthly life (see Mark Herzer, “Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth?,” Drawn into Controversie, 162-182). Later he mentions Petto’s rejection of “monocovenantalist schemas” (39). This imports contemporary debates into historical theology. Brown gives no evidence that this terminology belonged to the seventeenth-century nor does he indicate who held such views. The Reformed orthodox would not have recognized this term in their debates.

At least two other items are worth noting. He attributes Petto’s citation of “Dr. C” potentially to Edmund Calamy, but in the context of Petto’s work, the reference is very likely to John Cameron’s book on the covenants (13, fn13). The reason for this is that Petto’s on the Mosaic covenant were most likely a variation of Cameron’s assertion that the Mosaic covenant was a “subservient” covenant that was neither the covenant of works nor the covenant of grace. Additionally, he mentions that Petto’s rejection of a distinct covenant of redemption fits better with the Westminster Confession than with the Savoy Declaration (30). However, even Savoy does not use the term “covenant of redemption.” It refers only to a covenant between the Father and the Son (Savoy 8.1). Petto’s position still fits this language just as easily as those who distinguished the covenants of redemption and of grace. Conversely, though the terms describing the covenant of redemption were new at the time of the Westminster Assembly, there is no tension between this idea and Westminster’s covenant theology.

This lack of precision with respect to the relevant issues in seventeenth-century Reformed orthodoxy affects Brown’s treatment of the Mosaic covenant. While he succeeds in establishing the general thesis of his book, the manner in which he describes Petto’s view of the Mosaic covenant in relation to the options available at the time is problematic.

To begin with, he notes that Petto “embraced both the old and new covenants, and qualified them as one covenant of grace . . .” (42). Yet this is directly opposed to Petto’s argument in chapters six and seven of his work. Petto argued that the “old covenant” was not the covenant of grace, but that it was the “legal condition” of the covenant of grace as it was the covenant of works published for Christ to fulfill (Samuel Petto, The Difference Between the Old and New Covenant, London, 1674, 112, 124, 127, 141, 186). Petto taught that the Old Testament saints were saved through the “one covenant of grace,” but he denied emphatically that the old covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace.

Brown’s treatment of John Owen is important, since Owen and Petto held similar views and Owen wrote a preface to Petto’s work. Brown asserts, “[Owen] saw it as a covenant of works, distinct from yet subservient to the covenant of grace” (44). He later distinguishes Owen’s view from Bolton (and Cameron), who regarded the Mosaic covenant as neither the covenant of works nor the covenant of grace (79). However, Mark Jones has demonstrated that Owen’s position has many commonalities with Cameron’s, even though he illustrates the nuanced differences between them (Jones, “The ‘Old’ Covenant,” Drawn into Controversie, 199-202). Even though Owen believed that the substance of the covenant of works was republished at Sinai, he explicitly called Sinai “a superadded covenant” that was essentially neither the covenant of works nor the covenant of grace (Owen, Works, XXIII, 70, 77-78. Goold edition. See Petto, The Difference, 162). This is probably the most serious criticism of Brown’s work, since it shifts the entire paradigm of understanding Owen and Petto’s covenant theology.

Regarding Petto’s view of the Mosaic covenant, Brown wrote, “Petto believed Sinai to be a republication of the covenant of works” (87). This statement is not very precise. Petto wrote, “In general it was a covenant of works to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ, but not so as to Israel” (Petto, The Difference, 112). His point is that at Sinai, the covenant of works was republished to Israel declaratively rather than convenantally (Jones, “The ‘Old’ Covenant,” 200). In other words, it was not the covenant of works as originally given to Adam, but it was the covenant of works as given to Christ as the second Adam (Petto, The Difference, 17). This is why Owen argued that Sinai contained the substance of the covenant of works without being the covenant of works stated simply. Brown has not adequately discerned the nuances of this position, which is admittedly subtle. He qualifies these statements later by noting that the law was not a covenant of works for Israel (95-96, 103), but the bald statement that the law was a republished covenant of works was one that neither Petto nor Owen was willing to make.

On a minor note, he misunderstands slightly Petto’s view on “conditional promises (41, 111-115). Petto believed that the gospel consists of unconditional promises to believers and that those promises which appeared to be conditional were merely rhetorical devices that were designed to incite faith (Petto, The Difference Between the Old and New Covenant, 312ff). Brown does not bring out Petto’s emphasis strongly enough. When Petto calls faith, repentance, and obedience conditions “improperly” speaking, he means that they are inappropriately called conditions, since they are merely duties within the covenant of grace (The Difference, 208).

The proper construction of Petto’s covenant theology is as follows: The Sinai covenant was not the covenant of works as God gave it to Adam. Neither was it an administration of the covenant of grace to Israel. Nor was it a mixed covenant that was partly a covenant of works and partly a covenant of grace. Instead, it was a covenant of works for Christ in fulfilling the “legal condition” of the covenant of grace. As such, it was “an addition or appendix to that with Abraham” (Petto, The Difference, 162). Israel had no relation either to the covenant of works or to the covenant of grace by virtue of the Mosaic covenant. This covenant brought them temporal blessings in the land of Canaan only (as Brown notices, 96). Brown gives the impression that Petto taught that the Mosaic covenant was not an administration of the covenant of grace, but that it was a republication of the covenant of works. Yet strictly speaking, he believed that it was neither.

Seventeenth-century debates over the Mosaic covenant differ widely from modern ones. Some believed that he Mosaic covenant was the covenant of grace. Most believed that it was the covenant of grace with a republication of the covenant of works as a subordinate element. A small number taught that it was neither the covenant of works nor the covenant of grace, but that it contained elements of them both. Few, if any, believed that the Mosaic covenant was merely the covenant of works. Brown’s work draws necessary attention to a virtually forgotten thinker in the seventeenth-century, but the conclusions of this work need to be sharpened in order to better contribute to contemporary discussions.

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This review appeared first in the Mid-America Journal of Theology for 2012.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Living What You Know

Starr Meade, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013. 255pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

Sinclair Ferguson relates a story in which a woman told him that she listened to a particular sermon of his several times and that she was getting more out of it each time. Curious, he listened to the sermon himself. After listening to the sermon, he concluded that if this woman had been catechized, then she would likely have retained the entire sermon after the first or second listening.

Catechizing is one of the most important discipleship tools available both to family and church. Through a question and answer method, children and families learn how to think through the truths of Scripture and in an organized way. Yet catechizing is one of the most neglected areas of discipleship today. People who are raised on a steady diet of prayer, family worship, private Bible reading, public worship, and a Reformed catechism will better know what they believe, why they believe it, and how to walk with God in every area of life.

Yet catechizing can be difficult. To offset this difficulty, Starr Meade has prepared a year’s worth of studies to help families learn and discuss the Heidelberg Catechism. This volume is similar to her earlier acclaimed work on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Each section of the book begins by citing the full text of the relevant catechism questions for that week. She provides a brief devotional segment for each day of the week. This gives families a useful starting point to discuss the doctrines that they are memorizing and meditating upon in the catechism. She concludes each devotional segment with family Scripture readings. For the most part, she has followed the original division of the catechism into 52 Lord’s Days but has divided a few of the longer sections into two parts in order to promote ease of use.

This is a wonderful resource to help families grow in their knowledge of the Bible, in their ability to digest the theology of Scripture, in their personal godliness, and in their love to Christ. Starr Meade’s introduction provides a fitting conclusion for this review:

A catechism cannot and should not replace Scripture. But it is an invaluable aid in summarizing and remembering the most important teaching of Scripture. Learning a catechism doesn’t guarantee a child’s conversion. Knowing truth well is not the same as responding to truth and living in the light of it. But our children cannot respond to truth they don’t know. They can’t live in the light of truth with which they are unfamiliar. Helping children to learn well the truth of Scripture is where we begin. Knowing a good catechism is one of the best beginnings we can provide for our children (9).



This review first appeared in New Horizons, Oct. 2013

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Causes and Effects of Sanctification

J. V. Fesko, The Christian’s Pocket Guide to Sanctification

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

Those who love Jesus Christ must be concerned with their own personal holiness, or sanctification. This book is an excellent introduction to the biblical doctrine of sanctification. Fesko presents sanctification clearly from Scripture in three brief chapters followed by a select list of recommended resources for further reading.

He roots sanctification in the believer’s union with Christ and utter dependence on the person of the Holy Spirit. He also steers a clear path between a large number of imbalanced and unbiblical views of the doctrine, presenting a balanced Reformed approach to personal holiness.

Some will fault Fesko for not treating what John Murray termed “definitive sanctification.” Definitive sanctification refers to those passages of Scripture that describe sanctification in terms of a decisive once-for-all break with the power of sin in distinction from the process of growing in personal godliness. In Fesko’s defense, Murray’s terminology is relatively new in the history of the church. Classic manuals on sanctification do not use it. He also clearly includes the fact that sanctification begins with the new birth and that Christ breaks the reigning power of sin in our lives when we are united to Him by faith.

Fesko excellently conjoins the corporate and individual aspects of sanctification. Much of the New Testament teaching on personal obedience to the Lord requires a relation to other Christians in the context of the church. He stresses the necessity of corporate prayer, public preaching, and observing the sacraments in addition to practices such as Bible reading and private prayer. This flows from his treatment of the individual and corporate aspects of salvation in Chapter 1.

This reviewer takes issue with one statement in this book. Fesko states that the law is not a means of sanctification for the Christian (50). This initially sounds alarming, since God writes the law on the hearts of His people with the pen of the Holy Spirit. However, Fesko later describes the Christian life clearly in terms of the Spirit of God using the Law of God to conform believers to the image of Christ (57). It is difficult for this reviewer to understand how these two assertions are compatible. The Law is a divinely appointed means of sanctification in a manner comparable to how the Scriptures in general are a means of sanctification. Just as the Word of God is a means of grace for believers, so is the Law of God as it is a special part of the Word. If anything, the Law is the preeminent means of sanctification, even though it is not the cause of sanctification. Christ is the cause of sanctification, through the Spirit, using the Law as a means of conforming us to His image. Fesko’s view seems to be that the Law cannot sanctify us by its own power. This point is vital and believers forget it at their peril.

This book is a good introduction to a vital topic. May the Lord help readers lay its teachings up in their hearts and practice it in their lives.
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This review first appeared in the Puritan Reformed Journal.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Book Note from Ryan McGraw

Katekōmen's chief book reviewer Ryan M. McGraw, a member of the Greenville Seminary adjunct faculty, has sent the following note concerning his own recent book, The Day of Worship.

"I just learned that my book on the Sabbath (The Day of Worship) has gone into a second printing. I rejoice and thank the Holy Spirit for the extent to which he has blessed this work already. I wrote this book because the Sabbath is a great weak point in modern Christianity. Sabbath breaking is indicative of far greater and more fundamental deficiencies in our Christian lives. Put more positively, God has designed the Sabbath to stretch our spiritual muscles, to make us long for heaven more fervently, to practice self-denial, to flee worldliness, and to better equip us to keep all of the rest of God's commandments. The Lord's Day is one of the best means in the Christian life to help us focus on the central realities of the life, death, and, especially the resurrection of Christ. It declares the Father's love to us openly and it is to our spiritual detriment that our worldly employments and recreations have so come to dominate our lives that we refuse to suffer persecution for Christ's sake by honoring his holy day.

"I believe that the triune God blessed the writing of this book beyond my natural abilities. I praise him for using it thus far. I have prayed, and I still pray, that the Lord would use this book as one means among many to bring true revival to his church. Since RHB does not indicate or advertise when a book has been reprinted, there is a link to the book below. If this issue is dear to your heart, then please pray for the book and tell others about it."



Exploring the Covenant of Works

Aaron C. Denlinger, Omnes in Adam ex Pacto Dei: Ambrogio Catarino’s Doctrine of Covenantal Solidarity and its Influence on Post-Reformation Reformed Theologians. Reformed Historical Theology, vol. 8. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010. Pp. 306. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

This is a very significant study on the development of the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of works. The topic is highly important both in terms of tracing the historical development of Reformed orthodoxy and in light of contemporary theological debates over this doctrine. This work focusses on the relationship between the covenant theology of the Catholic theologian, Ambrogio Catarino, and the Reformed concept of covenantal solidarity between Adam and the human race (28). This author treats the neglected area of overlap and influence between post-Reformation Roman Catholic and Reformed theology. The broad educational background that stood behind seventeenth-century Protestant scholasticism makes this study tremendously fruitful.

Catarino was a Catholic counter-Reformation theologian who wrote two polemical treatises against Martin Luther (24). Denlinger’s introduction stresses the fact that Catarino published material regarding a pre-fall covenant twenty years prior (1541) to Reformed thinkers, such as Zacharius Ursinus (12). Chapters 2 and 3 assess previous theories concerning the origins of the pre-fall covenant in Reformed theology as well as the general neglect of Catarino’s covenant theology.

Chapters 4 and 5 outline Catarino’s covenant theology and his doctrine of the pre-fall covenant. Catarino and later Reformed thinkers held in common the imputation of Adam’s guilt to his posterity by virtue of his covenantal solidarity with humanity. However, they differed widely as well. Catarino believed in three eternal covenants. The first was with Christ and it bridged the ontological gap that existed between God and humanity. Christ’s coming was not necessitated by man’s sin (110-121). The next two eternal covenants were with Mary as the bride of Christ (121-124) and with the church as the fruit of her union with Christ (124-126). The pre-fall and post-fall covenant fulfilled these eternal covenants (125, 130). Through his fall, Adam lost the superadded gifts of justice and grace. These gifts would have lifted him above his natural limitations as a creature (156, 159). Faith and works were the means of obtaining eternal life, both before and after the fall. Sin only made this process more difficult (130).

After exploring the medieval background of covenantal solidarity in Chapter 6, Denlinger treats his primary question in chapter seven: Did Catarino influence Reformed orthodox covenant theology? Denlinger’s arguments here are largely circumstantial and inconclusive. Similarities between Catarino and Reformed writers on the pre-fall covenant may be explained more easily via Denlinger’s excellent treatment of their common medieval roots than by direct influence. His most significant argument relates to the similarities between Robert Rollock and Catarino, but even here Denlinger noted that the evidence for dependence is “rather tentative” (270). His research does not necessitate the conclusion that Catarino influenced Reformed authors. His concludes with Chapter 8 by arguing that Catarino was one of many indirect influences upon Reformed thinkers.

This book makes at least two highly significant contributions to the history of Reformed theology. First, Denlinger makes the astute observation that most previous studies of the origins of the pre-fall covenant have searched mistakenly for a single source for the doctrine (29). Instead of looking for a “fountainhead” of the doctrine, he looks for “tributaries” that converge in developing the idea of Adam’s covenantal solidarity with humanity (30). This approach avoids looking for an evolution of thought through a select set of authors, such as Calvin and Ursinus (47). While this method is more complex than searching for a single source of the covenant of works, it is more fruitful and convincing (63). This method bucks the trend of most of the current secondary literature on the origins of the covenant in Reformed orthodoxy.

Second, he places the “intellectual roots” of Reformed covenant theology in late-medieval nominalism (32). The significant point is that both Reformed and Catholic authors developed ideas from medieval nominalism in ways that both differed and overlapped at times (289). This common pre-Reformation background is important even apart from considering the connection between Catarino and the Reformed (193). In particular, Denlinger observes that Catarino developed his idea of covenantal solidarity via medieval sacramental views of “covenant causality” (215). “Covenant causality” taught that God made the sacraments efficacious by creating a covenantal bond between the sign and the thing signified (225). This furnished Catarino and later authors with a foundation for the imputation of Adam’s sin.

This reviewer has one minor criticism for this work. Denlinger is likely correct in asserting that early Reformed authors did not explicitly teach a covenantal solidarity between Adam and his posterity. However, he oversimplifies the matter by arguing that while sixteenth-century authors stressed realistic solidarity between Adam and mankind, seventeenth-century writers shifted towards covenantal solidarity (186). This is the hinge of his argument for connecting Catarino to the Reformed (247). It is more accurate to say that many seventeenth-century authors affirmed physical descent from Adam was the cause of inheriting a corrupt nature, but that the covenant was the ground for imputed guilt. However, it is not clear that this position was unanimous. Such a black and white contrast is rarely accurate in historical theology.

One further comment is in order. Denlinger argues that the Westminster divine Anthony Burgess had Catarino in view when he rejected the idea that Christ was a medius or ontological bridge between God and man instead of a Mediator (184). Denlinger’s connection is plausible. However, it is important to note that it was a common view that Christ was an ontologically intermediate figure between God and man in Eastern Orthodoxy as well. The broad educational background of Protestant scholasticism included the Greek fathers as well as a broad range of contemporary theology. This point merits further research.

Denlinger’s book is a vital addition to the small, but growing, body of literature on Reformed orthodox covenant theology. It will help students expand the theological context of post-Reformation theology both in terms of medieval and Catholic sources.


The preceding review was first published in the Westminster Theological Journal.


Reformed Controversy in Bygone Ages

Michael A. G. Haykin and Mark Jones, eds. Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates Within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

There is much debate in contemporary Reformed theology. Well respected authors differ over theological method, the Mosaic covenant, the relationship between justification and the order of salvation, and other issues. Historical theology potentially sheds light on how to approach these and other issues. Drawn into Controversie places seventeenth-century British Reformed theology in sharper focus by examining theological diversity among Reformed authors. Unlike many compilation volumes, every chapter in this book is gripping and profound. Several chapters deserve special attention either because of the subjects treated or because of their potential relevance to the church today. After a general survey I will consider Chapters 3, 8, 9 and 10 in detail.

Richard Muller’s introduction both summarizes his research on continuity and discontinuity in the Reformed tradition and introduces the essays in this volume. Alan Strange next argues provocatively that the Westminster Standards clearly and intentionally affirmed the imputation of Christ’s active obedience even though those Standards do not state the doctrine explicitly. Not all will agree with Strange’s findings, but his case is a well-reasoned and stimulating appeal to the primary sources. In chapter four, Crawford Gribben demonstrates the pivotal development of Puritan millenarianism from the 1640’s to the end of the century. J. V. Fesko then treats the influence of the English delegates on the Synod of Dort and the diverse lapsarian views represented at the Synod. In chapter seven, Jonathan Moore shows that English hypothetical universalism taught that Christ died for all men in one sense, but for the elect alone in another sense. It may surprise some that English hypothetical universalists subscribed to the statements on the atonement in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Rather than contradicting the confession, they added another sense in which Christ died for all men.

Mark Herzer follows in Chapter 7 by using Thomas Goodwin and Francis Turretin as representatives of two views on the nature of Adam’s promised reward in Eden. He observes that Reformed authors generally denied the concept of merit in the covenant of works while still distinguishing clearly it from the covenant of grace. In chapter eleven, Joel Beeke helpfully illustrates diverse Puritan approaches to personal assurance of salvation. He does so with remarkable clarity by reducing disagreements to six primary questions. Michael Haykin and Jeffrey Robinson conclude the book by noting debates among particular Baptists on open communion and church membership as well as whether singing uninspired hymns is lawful. Those who are unfamiliar with seventeenth-century Baptist theology may find the terms of these foreign. This is particularly true when one side of the hymnody debate argued for singing both Psalms and hymns in public worship while the other side rejected singing entirely. This chapter usefully helps round out the broad seventeenth-century theological landscape.

Four chapters deserve special notice. In Chapter 3, Hunter Powell looks at the debates at the Westminster Assembly regarding the seat of church power. He examines hitherto unrecognized disagreements (and overlap) among various shades of Presbyterians, the Dissenting Brethren, and others at the Assembly. He argues that the Dissenting brethren had an influence disproportionate to their numbers (52) and that their position on the subject of church power differed from most Independents (56). The debate on the seat of church power in October 1643 is significant because it occurred before the Scottish commissioners were seated and it limited the scope of all subsequent discussions over this matter (55). It regarded the proper interpretation of Matthew 16:19, over which there were five differing views (65-68). The Dissenting Brethren argued that Peter was simply the proton dektikon, or first designated person in the text (68). The Dissenting Brethren added that Christ bestowed distinct power on ministers and on congregations and that neither derived their authority from each other, but from Christ (69, 78). This attracted Scottish Presbyterians and distinguished them from some segments of English Presbyterianism (70). Powell adds that English Presbyterianism was unique in asserting that ministers and congregations derived power from the universal church (74). The Scottish Presbyterian, Samuel Rutherford, rejected this view by arguing that Christ bestowed power on both elders and congregations in local churches first and then to Presbyteries (78). Though none disagreed that elders should exercise the power of the keys (80), the divines were aware of the diverse views among them and they were reluctant to debate this issue head-on (81). Powell states the significance of his research well: “Thus, the month of October 1643 enables us to see the uniquely English complexities of ecclesiological debates” (83). This reviewer greatly anticipates the publication of Powell doctoral thesis on this subject.

Mark Jones’s chapter (Chapter 8) on “The ‘Old’ Covenant” is particularly relevant to modern controversies over the nature of the Mosaic covenant. He argues that there were five views among the Westminster divines regarding this covenant (188, 190). Most of the divines believed that the Mosaic covenant expanded the covenant of grace made with Abraham, but that this included a declaration of the covenant of works as a subordinate element (189-190, 200). This did not mean that Israel was under the covenant of works. Instead the covenant of works was present on Sinai declaratively rather than covenantally (200). This is virtually equivalent to the Reformed view of the first use of the law which convicts people of their need for Christ. Israel continued under the covenant of grace by virtue of the Sinai covenant, but the law simultaneously reminded them of the broken covenant of works. God designed it to drive them to Christ. Jones treats the peculiar views of Cameron, Bolton, Owen, and Petto to the effect that the Mosaic covenant was neither the covenant of works nor the covenant of grace, but that it included elements of both (195, 199). Out of the five views that Jones surveys, only a small minority was willing to say that the Mosaic covenant was simply a covenant of works. This provides much food for thought, both because modern views of republication usually do not approximate the majority Reformed orthodox position and because the majority historic position has largely been forgotten.

John Owen significantly appears prominently in almost every chapter of this book. This shows that scholars are beginning to recognize his importance in British Reformed orthodoxy. Carl Trueman is perhaps the greatest catalyst for the recent flowering of Owen studies. In Chapter 9, he traces Owen’s shift from arguing that the divine decree alone determined the manner of the atonement (consequent necessity) to asserting that the being of God determined the nature of the atonement (absolute necessity). His essay illuminates the complex factors that went into Reformed theological method and formulation. Trueman asserts, “Owen reveals that his change in understanding of God’s justice is paralleled by a change in his understanding of the nature of revelation” (215). He shifted from the idea that divine revelation presented the arbitrary acts of God’s will to the view that God’s will takes shape from the divine attributes. Owen’s central presupposition was the close correlation between God’s essence and his revelation (217). The way in which he related epistemology to the being of God had affinities with both Aquinas and Arminius (220-221), Aquinas being the common influence on both. Trueman concludes, “This points us once again to the complexity of the historical development of Reformed theology, a complexity that defies any attempt at explanation in terms of simplistic models and categories” (221). This chapter gives readers a glimpse at the Medieval foundation of Reformed theology and how systematic theology influenced the individual parts of an author’s thought.

Robert McKelvey’s treatment of the relation between antinomianism and eternal justification (Chapter 10) is important for historical and contemporary theology. The relationship between justification, the ordo salutis, union with Christ, and the divine decrees are important topics today. McKelvey shows that they were in the seventeenth-century as well. Eternal justification arose as an effort to protect the free and sovereign grace of God from human contributions (224). This doctrine equates the eternal decree of justification with actual justification. This debate involves the time of justification and its relation to faith (225). Richard Baxter called it, “the pillar and ground of antinomianism.” However, McKelvey argues that not all who believed in justification from eternity were antinomians (242, 251, 255, 257). Antinomians did not necessarily deny that justification sanctification were inseparable (233), but they believed that treating sanctification as evidence of justification led to a “subtle legalism reminiscent of Roman Catholicism” (230). They often stressed justification by Christ rather than justification by faith. By doing so, they virtually “obliterated” faith as an instrumental condition of justification (231). For similar reasons, later hyper-Calvinists, such as John Gill, defended “antinomians,” such as Tobias Crisp (235). The Westminster Assembly decidedly rejected the Antinomian view that God sees no sin in the justified (238). McKelvey effectively disentangles historical antinomianism from Baxter’s misleading assertion that it grew inseparably from eternal justification (262). Ideas such as being justified prior to faith (say, at the cross), calling sanctification as evidence of justification “legalism,” and opposing justification by Christ to justification by faith, all while asserting that justification and sanctification are inseparable, will sound familiar to many readers. The fact that these were antinomian positions in the seventeenth-century that mainstream Reformed orthodoxy rejected is potentially fruitful to contemporary discussions.

In one sense, theological debates in seventeenth-century British Puritanism bear similarities to those in our time. In another sense they differ widely. They are similar in that they demonstrate a range of views among those who adhere to Reformed confessions. They differ in that the substantial agreement among the Reformed is sometimes remarkable. Some modern authors hold views that approximate to those excluded by historic Reformed orthodoxy. Modern debates have often left us searching for new theological methodology as well. While our forefathers are not an infallible guide, they give us a working model for where to draw theological lines in a way that promotes precision and unity. To help both historians and pastors, I cannot recommend Drawn into Controversie highly enough.


The preceding review was first published in the Puritan Reformed Journal.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Communicating God

William M. Schweitzer, God is a Communicative Being: Divine Communicativeness and Harmony in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards. London: T&T Clark, 2012. 198pp. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

Ministerial labors are often disjointed and lack a unified purpose This important book re-assesses the big picture of the theology of Jonathan Edwards. William Schweitzer locates the self-communicating nature of the Triune God and the resultant harmony of revelation in Scripture, creation, and providence as central to Edwards’ life-work. This work contributes to scholarly literature and it provides fuel for contemporary discussions of Trinitarian theology, divine revelation, and gives a model for a unified approach to the ministry.

Schweitzer demonstrates that for Edwards the harmonious communication between the persons of the Godhead is the basis for harmony in God’s self-revelation (6). Chapter one describes Edwards’ teaching on the communicative nature of God within the Trinity. For this reason, he argued that “communicativeness” is a divine attribute (14). God then communicates himself to his creatures (ad extra) through knowledge, love, and joy (25). The Father gives knowledge of himself through his Son. Using Augustinian Trinitarian language, Edwards shows that God communicates himself in love by the Spirit, who is the bond of love between the Father and the Son. Joy is likely communicated conjointly through the Son and the Spirit. Human (and angelic) knowledge of God – which entails knowledge, love, and delight (26) – corresponds to these three ways of divine self-communication. In this way, Schweitzer shows why Edwards’ doctrine of the knowledge of God was inherently Trinitarian.

Divine revelation and the doctrine of God were the two great planks of Reformed orthodox Prolegomena. Though Schweitzer does not mention this fact, his research shows that Edwards integrated God’s Triunity into both of these planks. This sets the entire system of Reformed theology in a Trinitarian cast. This highlights the significant insights that Reformed theologians such as Edwards contributed to Trinitarian theology. The trend in contemporary theology is to assume that there were no significant developments of the doctrine of the Trinity between John Calvin and Karl Barth. The Reformed orthodox voice needs to be rediscovered. Schweitzer’s work contributes to this need.

Edwards taught that God communicates himself through nature, Scripture, and providence (30). Chapters two through five unfold these themes, while splitting the topic of “Scripture” into “special revelation” (chapter three) and “Scripture” proper (chapter four). Edwards was interested in studying nature because he believed that all of reality reflected the harmony of the mind of the Triune God (chapter two). Schweitzer adds that he affirmed natural revelation and rejected natural theology (55-65). This observation is helpful because while this distinction was common in Reformed orthodoxy prior to Edwards, it began to erode in post-Enlightenment theology. This nuance between natural revelation and natural theology is often treated as an innovation of recent theology. According to Schweitzer, Edwards taught that natural theology is impossible for sinners without special revelation and the work of the Spirit (77-79).

Chapter four argues that Edwards asserted that God communicates himself to sinners through Christ, by the Spirit. The Scriptures are the interpretive key that the Spirit uses to unveil the harmony of divine revelation in all of God’s works. This is true in relation to seeing God’s hand in history as well as in nature (chapter five). By using Scripture properly, Edwards believed that we can discern the harmony of the events of human history in spreading the gospel. This explains the importance that he placed on his projected History of the Work of Redemption, which he believed was an “entirely new” method of writing systematic theology (127). The fresh element of his approach was attempting to show the harmony between the historical unfolding of God’s revelation in Scripture and in human history. Schweitzer notes repeatedly that Edwards’ stressed the necessity of the regenerating work of the Spirit engaging the human affections to delight in God through the harmony of his works in order for this enterprise to be fruitful.

Schweitzer writes in conclusion (chapter six), “The harmony concept runs like a golden thread throughout the chapters on Edwards’ thought on nature, Scripture, and history” (144). God’s external acts and revelation reflect the internal harmony between the persons of the Trinity. The author contributes significantly to Edwards studies by connecting his theological goals to his view of the practical aims of the pastoral office (148-152, 171). Edwards believed that all pastors shared this duty of discovering the harmony of God’s revelation in Scripture, nature, and history, and thereby expounding the glory of God to the church. Scholars often miss this point. Bypassing the pastoral emphases and goals of theologians such as Edwards distorts our understanding of their theology to some degree. To illustrate how Edwards used the concept of harmony in his ministry, Schweitzer brilliantly traces the idea throughout Edwards’ writings (162-169), including his three great unfinished projects.

One general weakness of this book is that Schweitzer does not give enough attention to the Reformed orthodox background of Edwards’ thought. There are scattered references Turretin, Mastricht, Owen and others, but thorough interaction with the Reformed theological tradition is missing at key points. For example, he refers to Edwards’ early suggestion that pagan philosophers possessed some measure of truth due either to Jewish or to Christian influences (95). Yet later Edwards cautiously posited the idea of limited special revelation in such cases. Both of these views appeared in earlier Reformed theology. Hugo Grotius, John Owen, and Theophilus Gale and others attempted to show that many aspects of pagan philosophy and religion were gradually distorted versions of God’s revelation to the patriarchs. Some, such as Uldrich Zwingli, allowed that some philosophers discovered saving revelation possibly through extra-biblical means. Putting Edwards in this context makes him appear to be less radical, but to vacillate between alternate developments on two historical positions. The same observation is true with regard to Edwards’ refusal to define theology as a science. Schweitzer correctly connects this idea to Mastricht and contrasts it with Turretin (85-86). However, he does not note that this view was common among Reformed authors including Owen, Hoornbeeck, and others.

However, for those who look to Schweitzer’s book mainly as Jonathan Edwards scholarship, there are several useful contributions. In an issue that is particularly relevant to PRJ readers, Schweitzer argues that recent assertions of Edwards’ hospitality to critical approaches to the Bible are wrong—not only is he utterly hostile towards higher biblical criticism there is no positive evidence even for an embrace of lower (textual) criticism. Similarly, there is some new evidence presented that Edwards broke sharply with Locke on the crucial point of what human language was designed for. Locke claimed language was only useful for speaking with other people and it could not handle divine things adequately, whereas Edwards thought language was specifically designed for communication with God. Schweitzer also offers a fresh look at the famous “Spider Letter” in which Scripture (apparently, the Exodus narrative) was a controlling influence for him even in what appeared to be a purely scientific context. 

This book has much to offer both pastors and scholars. Schweitzer gives us a portrait of a pastor with a unified God-glorifying purpose for his ministry. This is a lofty and necessary goal for ministers in every generation. Edwards was overly-speculative at times, but he teaches us how to think about life in terms of communion with the Triune God.


The above was published previously in Puritan Reformed Journal, July 2013.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Shifting Paradigms in Reformed Systematic Theology: A Review Article

Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011). 1052pp. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

Richard Muller described the development of Reformed orthodoxy as an attempt to adapt Reformed theology to a changing theological climate. He argued that without expanding and adapting Reformed theology to meet the needs of the time, it would not have survived.[1] In his The Christian Faith: A Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, Michael Horton attempts to adapt historic Reformed theology to a contemporary theological climate. This is a difficult task. With extensive knowledge of historic Reformed theology, Scripture, and contemporary theology, Horton is well equipped for it.

The Christian Faith simultaneously presents Reformed theology to a new generation and transforms the nature of Reformed orthodoxy at vital points. This has both positive and negative consequences. Positively, Horton interacts thoroughly with contemporary issues. Negatively, some of his material introduces new paradigms that significantly alter the substance and method of historic Reformed theology. This review is divided into two disproportionate parts. The first sketches the general features of Horton’s work, highlighting its major contributions to theology. The second and larger part evaluates his use of speech-act theory, the eastern distinction between divine essence and energies, and his construction of the ordo salutis or application of redemption. These issues are integral to Horton’s treatise and provide a means by which to evaluate the entire work.

General Sketch

Very few Reformed works on systematic theology have appeared in the last seventy years.[2] A systematic theology by one of the most well-respected leaders in the Reformed church today expectedly has many strengths.

Structure and Method

Horton follows the traditional loci structure of systematic theology, moving from prolegomena (including the knowledge of God and doctrine of Scripture), to Theology proper, to Creation and Anthropology, to Christology, to Soteriology, to Ecclesiology, and culminating in the last things. Eschatology pervades the entire book as well. In contrast to some recent works, his organization is both easy to follow and familiar.[3]

Horton’s book reads like an unfolding story or divine drama. He presents three paradigms to describe mankind’s relation to God: overcoming estrangement, meeting a stranger, and the stranger we never meet. The first approach tries to bridge an ontological divide between God and man. Pagan philosophy often follows this pattern and has infiltrated various branches of Christian thought. The stranger we never meet approach encompasses atheists and those who believe that we have no certain knowledge of God. Horton believes that meeting a stranger represents the biblical paradigm of entering into fellowship with God in a covenant relationship.

The story-like structure of his work illustrates the affinities between biblical and systematic theology while still distinguishing them. His book is full of thorough exegesis of Scripture, sensitivity to the biblical narrative, interaction with historical and contemporary theology, and application of the Reformed system to a modern audience. He uses Reformed confessional documents extensively as well, particularly the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dort).

Major Contributions to Reformed Theology

One of Horton’s greatest contributions to theology is that his book is saturated with the doctrine of the Trinity. He takes the recent renaissance of Trinitarian theology seriously and adds a fresh voice to the conversation. There is not a single chapter in this book that does not self-consciously describe biblical doctrines and the works of God in terms of the Father’s actions, through the Son, by the Spirit. One example will suffice. In reference to covenant theology he wrote, “If covenantal thinking forms the architecture of Reformed faith and practice, the doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation” (273). Historian Philip Dixon observed that in the early eighteenth-century, Unitarianism pervaded the Church of England because orthodox writers largely lost the doctrinal and practical significance of the Trinity.[4] By contrast, the Dutch theologian, Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676), called the Trinity the foundation of fundamentals (fundamentum fundamenti) and added that every article of the faith is married to it.[5]  Because God’s Triunity stands at the heart of Horton’s theology, this feature is potentially fruitful in teaching believers how to understand their faith and experience in terms of the work of all three divine persons.

A pervasive feature of The Christian Faith is the author’s heavy interaction with contemporary theology. The breadth of his learning in this area represents the culmination of years of labor, writing, and prayer. Horton is an excellent guide through the minefield of neo-orthodoxy, liberation theology, post-modern philosophy, the emergent church, the new perspective on Paul, and several other areas. His critiques are theologically sound and charitable. His interaction with various forms of post-modern philosophy stands out in in this connection. He introduces readers to a wide range of sources beyond the Reformed tradition that most will never have the time to master. This is a great service to the church.

Several chapters are particularly valuable. Horton provides a biblical and well-defended treatment of the doctrine of original sin (chapter thirteen). In contrast to some modern authors, this includes a clear explication of the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity.[6] Chapters 27-29 are rich and clear in presenting various aspects of the eschatological goals of creation and redemption. He shows that these goals were always part of the divine plan. This is why eschatology pervades his entire system of theology. His treatment of millennial views is clear and helpful. Even if readers do not agree with Horton’s amillenial position, he helps navigate the relevant issues involved.

Major Themes and Theological Implications

Three themes characterize Horton’s work as a whole. These are his use of speech-act theory, divine essence and energies, and the ordo salutis. In several places, Horton explicitly intertwines the distinction between divine essence and energies and speech-act theory with his pervasive Trinitarian theology (for example, 131). His construction of the application of redemption (ordo salutis) flows out of his teaching on these subjects. These three areas are inter-related and they are integral to his system. While other areas of his theology contribute to important debates in Reformed churches, these issues best characterize the entire system.[7]

Speech-Act Theory

Speech-act theory is a contemporary philosophical description of what happens during communication between speakers and hearers. The relevant terminology used in this theory helps explain what it entails and how Horton adapts it to theology. He wrote, “The event of one’s writing, uttering, or otherwise signifying something is called the locutionary act. What we do through such signifying is referred to as the illocutionary act (or force). That which is brought about in the hearer as a result is its perlocutionary effect.” (119). To illustrate, yelling “fire” is a locutionary act, warning potential and unsuspecting victims is an illocutionary act, and causing them to leave the building is the perlocutionary effect (119). Here and elsewhere, he connects these terms to the work of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, respectively (120-121).

Horton’s chapter on creation shows how he relates speech-act theory to his trinitarianism (especially pages 328-334). The Father spoke (locution) and all things came into being. The Son was the means through which the Father accomplished this work (illocution) as the Father’s divine speech. The Spirit completed or perfected the work of creation (perlocution). This is a model for how God works in every other case. The advantage to this theory is that it involves all three persons of the Godhead simultaneously and distinctly. The disadvantage is that it makes everything that God does a speech-act or declaration (see below). Here he interjects the eastern distinction between the divine essence and energies, which the next section below treats. The idea is that God speaks creation into existence through His energies (attributes/works), “while the hypostatic word is his essence” (332). The exercise of the divine energies in creation is a free act, but the hypostatic word is the eternal and necessary word of the Father. He regards the terms “command” and “summons” in the creation account as covenantal terms. This means that “the natural world” testifies to this covenant (333). He then adds that “the essence of being creatures” in Scripture is “to be ‘worded’ by God.” By this vague expression he means that God sustains all things both by his hypostatic and energetic word and that He “creates a society of speakers as an analogy of the Trinity” (334).

His theory may sound inviting in describing the power of divine revelation. However, it falls into difficulty when it comes to soteriology (see below). Even in connection to revelation, Horton appears to come closer to the Lutheran view of the inherent efficacy of the Word rather than the Reformed view of the work of the Spirit using the Word as a means in effectual calling.

Horton tends to confuse God’s creative power with God’s using the Word as a means in the hands of the Spirit. This relates to his quasi Lutheran view of the means of grace and to his assertion that salvation is produced by an ex nihilo act of God (661-662). We will see below that this led him to speak later of a “forensically charged” ordo salutis (708). Divine speech-acts are declarations that transform. By subsuming all divine acts to speech-act, he runs the risk of making all divine acts towards sinners forensic or declarative. Since forensic language is ordinarily associated with justification, Horton’s speech-act theory results in reading the entire application of redemption in light of justification. The last section of this review shows the problems associated with this move. His use of speech-act theory adopts too many aspects of a post-modern metaphysic and epistemology. Contrary to Horton’s intent, explaining the biblical system of theology in terms such as locution, illocution, and perlocution is not a simpler alternative to the historic Reformed adaptation of Aristotelian fourfold causation.[8]  This method will likely confuse a popular audience and it has serious consequences for the theological system.

Divine Essence, Divine Energies, and Deification (Theosis)

Horton uses extensively the Eastern orthodox distinction between God’s essence and energies. He treats God’s “energies” as virtually synonymous with His works (612). Eastern orthodoxy typically treats God’s “energies” as synonymous with His attributes.[9] This distinction asserts that the divine essence is unknowable and that we know God by his “energies” or works. At times Horton equates the divine energies with the divine attributes and at others with his works. In other places, he upholds the western doctrine of divine simplicity that teaches that essence and attributes are distinguishable but inseparable in God. Horton adds that the divine “energies” are uncreated realities (614).

Some eastern theologians used the distinction between divine essence and energies as the foundation of theosis, or deification. In some cases, theosis is poor terminology for renewing man in God’s image at glorification.[10] Later writers such as Gregory Palamas distinguished the divine essence from the divine energies.[11] This version of theosis means that believers become the divine energies without becoming the divine essence. Horton adopts this view. He claims that this is a potential “point of convergence” between eastern authors and John Calvin (613). In this reviewer’s opinion, the former use of theosis is confusing at best and unhelpful. The Reformed orthodox theologian, Peter van Mastricht (1630-1706) noted that Gregory Nazianzen imprudently called union with Christ Christification or deification.[12] He added that this led many later authors to teach blasphemous doctrines. The other sense of theosis creates a category in which glorified humanity becomes more than human and less than God in a vague ontological position in which humanity and the divine attributes converge. Many eastern orthodoxy theologians reject Palamas’s distinctions between the divine essence and energies.[13] This weakens Horton’s position, since he integrates the essence/energies distinction into most of his chapters.

Importance of the Divine Essence/Energies Distinction

It is important to recognize that the divine essence and energies distinction is not incidental in Horton’s work.[14] He integrates it into his adaptation of speech-act theory. Early in the book (52) he notes, “We will return several times to this crucial distinction of Eastern theology.” In the same place he adds that the western failure to distinguish between God’s essence and energies has “pantheistic tendencies.” While he argues that the western tradition has generally neglected the eastern view of distinguishing the divine essence and energies, he adds that there is here a “point of convergence” with Reformed theology (613). However, the western concept of glorification does not entail becoming the energies or attributes of God, but renewal in God’s image through union and communion with Christ in glory.[15]

Problems with the Essence/Energies Distinction

While it is true that some western Christians misunderstand what some eastern theologians mean by theosis, understanding theosis properly does not clear away enough difficulties to accept the concept. The following reasons show why this is the case.

First, it is unwise to ground so much of his theology in a distinction that many Reformed theologians will reject or question. If Horton’s use of the divine essence and energies and theosis was one point among many, then readers might reject it without detracting from their agreement with his work as a whole. Yet he integrates these concepts into most of his chapters.

Second, the essence/energies distinction makes God unknowable instead of incomprehensible. Horton’s work contains a fine treatment of the attributes of God in general, but he lacks anything approaching an adequate explanation of God’s incomprehensibility. This doctrine teaches that while we can never know God exhaustively in and of Himself we can know Him truly. Horton affirms the distinction between archetypal and ectypal theology and he repeats continually that man’s knowledge of God is analogical rather than equivocal (which means we cannot know anything about God) or univocal (which means that we understand God exactly as He understands Himself). Western theology has taught consistently that we cannot comprehend God’s hidden essence, but that we can know Him truly through His revealed attributes and His works, since God is His attributes. While Horton believes that distinguishing between the divine essence and energies upholds the Creator/creature distinction, in actuality it complicates matters by created a third category of being and it gives the impression that salvation involves ascending a scale of being. This better mirrors Greek philosophy than it does Holy Scripture, which says that God blesses the person who understands and knows Him (Jer.9:24), not the one who becomes His attributes and works.

Third, this distinction threatens to shift soteriology from solving an ethical problem to addressing an ontological problem. Horton is concerned to avoid this aspect of eastern theology, but it is questionable whether he can do so consistently while maintaining the essence/energies distinction. This distinction arose as an attempt to remedy difficulties in justifying man’s knowledge of God, with which Horton sympathizes. However, it also arose in order to address the ontological divide between God and humanity. Eastern theology addresses the question of whether or not Christ would have become incarnate even if Adam had never fallen in the Garden. The reason behind question is that the Eastern Church regards God as inherently unreachable by His creatures. For some theologians, the essence/energies distinction provided a middle ground in which God and man could meet. In this view, it is possible that Christ would have assumed human flesh in order to bring people into this middle category, since He shared the nature of both parties. Where eastern orthodoxy regards theosis as its central soteriological concept, Reformed theology puts covenantal solidarity and union with Christ in its place. The knowledge of God is possible because God created man in His image. Christ restores God’s image in us not through deification, but by elevating our humanity to its created purpose.[16] The question is whether Christ makes us more human that we currently are through sanctification and glorification, or whether He makes us less human than we are through deification. Theosis is necessary only if an ontological problem affects the relationship between God and humanity. It is not necessary if restoring communion with God through union with Christ is in view.

Fourth, it is questionable, at best, to treat the eastern distinction between the divine essence and energies as a “point of convergence” between eastern orthodoxy and Reformed theology. This is true both from a historical standpoint and from a theological standpoint.[17] Horton argues that Calvin’s use of the analogy between the sun and the rays of the sun in order to explain the relationship between the divine Father and the divine Son is evidence that he depended on eastern versus western authors. However, this analogy appears in Augustine and many other western authors. Augustine has virtually become the “bad guy” in recent contrasts between eastern and western Trinitarian theology.[18] Proponents of the eastern view frequently charge western Christians with misunderstanding their teaching. The evidence presented here should lead us to question whether such authors have adequately understood the western view. Commenting on John Owen’s use of both eastern and western authors, Robert Letham refers to him as “a brilliant synthesizer.”[19] The more this reviewer has studied Reformed orthodox writers on the Trinity, he is convinced that this statement describes the seventeenth-century Reformed trinitarian tradition in general.[20] While Owen developed his practical Trinitarian theology more fully than most other Reformed authors, yet his construction of the Trinity represents a Reformed contribution to the doctrine that is often overlooked.[21] The Reformed position on the Trinity adopted elements from both the eastern and the western church fathers, but it stands in contrast to aspects of both eastern and western ontology. It is misleading to suggest that the essence/energies distinction coupled with theosis represents a “point of convergence” between the Reformed and the East. There is little proof that Calvin or the mainstream of Reformed orthodoxy drew an explicit distinction between the divine essence and energies. It rather appears to be the case that some scholars have not nailed down precisely the proper relationship between East and West in studies of historic Reformed orthodoxy. There are also other factors that shaped the emphases of Reformed orthodox trinitarianism that have little to do with choosing sides between the East and the West, such as the rise of Socinianism and the fact that Arminians tended to deny that the Trinity was a fundamental article of the faith because, in their view, it had no practical significance.

The Order of Salvation

Horton’s trinitarian adaptation of speech-act theory and his adoption of the eastern distinction between the divine essence and energies converge in his Soteriology. In light of the preceding section, this reviewer will largely bypass his material on essence/energies in relation to Soteriology. His primary concern is how speech-act theory appears to affect Horton’s construction of the application of redemption, or ordo salutis. In particular, Horton replaces some of the functions of the doctrine of union with Christ with the doctrine of justification in the application of redemption. His statements on this subject do not appear to be entirely coherent. Horton’s use of speech-act theory is likely what leads him to import the forensic/declarative character of justification into the entire ordo salutis. This section illustrates the effects of his teaching on the Reformed doctrine of salvation by focusing on his treatment of the relationship between union with Christ and justification.

Horton’s view of the relationship between union with Christ and justification is difficult to describe. In his chapter on union with Christ, he states that union with Christ is not one moment in the application of redemption, but that it encompasses all of the benefits that we receive from Christ, both in eternity and in time (587). This reflects the New Testament teaching that all of the benefits of the gospel come to us “in Christ.” The traditional Reformed view is that the benefits of justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification are grounded in the believer’s union with Christ and that they are benefits of being united to Christ through faith. At first glance, this appears to be Horton’s view. However, a few pages later, he refers to “justification as the judicial ground of union with Christ” (589). In tension with this statement, he later adds, “All of Christ’s gifts are given in our union with him through faith” (623). Presumably, justification is one of these gifts, making this statement indicate that God justifies believers by virtue of their union with Christ. However, in the chapter preceding his treatment of union with Christ, Horton argues that the centrality of justification in redemption means that the entire ordo salutis is “forensically charged.”[22] Statements such as these make it unclear whether justification is the ground of union with Christ or union with Christ is the ground of justification.

Horton illustrates the tension that this reviewer detects when he treats adoption in relation to union with Christ and justification. He wrote, “If union with Christ in the covenant of grace is the matrix of Paul’s ordo, justification remains its basis, even for adoption” (632). In historic expressions of Reformed theology, union with Christ gives birth to and encompasses justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification.[23] However, there are elements of the ordo salutis that logically precede union with Christ and justification, such as effectual calling, regeneration, and faith.[24] It is difficult to see how justification can be the “basis” of elements of salvation that precede it logically. Yet he later adds, “I am suggesting that we view all the items in Paul’s ordo constituting one train, running on the same track, with justification as the engine that pulls, adoption, new birth, sanctification, and glorification in tow” (708). For this reason, he adds, the entire ordo salutis “never leave[s] the forensic domain” (708). This statement appears to make justification not only the “judicial ground” of union with Christ (589), but of regeneration. This would make regeneration follow faith and justification in some sense instead of making the new birth the cause of the faith that unites believers to Christ. Statements such as these highlight a lack of clarity in his description the doctrine of salvation. Horton appears to say simultaneously that union with Christ gives birth to applying the benefits of redemption and that justification is the cause or ground of union with Christ. Because this scheme does not follow a traditional construction of the order of salvation, this reviewer has difficulty understanding Horton’s position. His statements at best create tension and at worst contradict one another.

This construction of the ordo salutis appears related to Horton’s adaptation of speech-act theory. This theory teaches that everything that God does is a speech-act. Justification is a declaration from God that sinners are counted righteous in Christ. This is a forensic declaration in a courtroom setting. It is a small step to add that since all of God’s speech-acts are works of creation ex nihilo, then every divine action in man’s salvation is declarative or forensic. Horton does not state this explicitly, but this would explain why he imports a “forensically charged” aspect into every benefit of redemption. The result is that, in spite of the above cited statements to the contrary, his view of justification effectively replaces the traditional role of union with Christ in Soteriology (see 677).

In traditional Reformed theology, union with Christ is the ground of justification. As John Murray argued, because we are united to Christ by faith first we are “constituted” righteous in God’s sight.[25] This means that when God declares sinners righteous in Christ, He declares what is actually true by virtue of imputing Christ’s righteousness to them. Older authors, such as Mastricht, taught the same thing.[26] This is what prevents justification from becoming a legal fiction, in which God declares something to be true that is not actually the case. Justification is not an act of creation ex nihilo; it is a declaration that sinners are righteous in union Christ. This does not mean that being justified on the basis of being constituted righteous entails immediate perfection in personal holiness (which progresses by stages in their sanctification and is perfected in their glorification), but that believers are truly righteous by imputation by virtue of being united to Jesus Christ the righteous one.

The Bible presents a Christologically charged ordo salutis rather than a “forensically charged” one. The Scriptures teach that we must be born again before we can see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:5). We “see” the kingdom of God by faith (1 Jn. 3:6-7). Faith is the instrument by which we receive Christ, an in him all the benefits of redemption. This is why we are justified by faith and not by the works of the law (Rom. 3:28). Then those whom God justifies he also sanctifies and glorifies (Rom. 8:30). We are justified in Christ (Gal. 2:17), adopted in Christ (Eph. 1:5), sanctified in Christ (Rom. 6:5-11), and glorified in Christ (Rom. 8:10-11). We are not regenerated in Christ because regeneration produces the faith that unites us to Christ. Neither is the new birth pulled in a train behind justification, since our justification results from the new birth.

Horton’s construction of the order of salvation fits his view of speech-act theory, but it does not harmonize well with historic Reformed orthodoxy or with the testimony of Scripture. Horton’s colleague, John Fesko, perhaps provides a clue to understanding this position in his historical treatment of union with Christ and justification in relation to the intra-trinitarian covenant of redemption.[27] Fesko argues that the Reformed orthodox either taught or implied that justification is the “legal ground” of union with Christ in the eternal decree of God. Presumably this is because justification is the goal of redemption and union with Christ is a means of achieving this goal. However, it is difficult to make this case from the historical evidence. Salvation is a broader concept than justification, as Horton, Fesko, and this reviewer all acknowledge. Salvation includes adoption, sanctification, glorification, and every other aspect of the order of salvation. The language of Scripture is that God chose believers for salvation in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-6). Justification is one component of salvation. Union with Christ logically precedes justification in God’s eternal plan just as truly as it does in the application of redemption to believers in human history.

For these reasons, Horton’s speech-act theory potentially alters our understanding of Soteriology. This is related to his approval of radical statements to the effect that sanctification primarily involves getting used to our justification. While Horton upholds the importance of obedience to the Law of God in the Christian life, this position is remarkably similar to historic antinomianism. This reviewer is not accusing Horton of antinomianism, but the primary premise of antinomianism was that, regardless of the time involved, sinners are justified prior to faith in Christ and conversion.[28] In another recent publication, Horton states that if someone asked him when he was saved, his answer would be that he was saved two thousand years ago – that is, at the cross.[29] This blurs the distinction between redemption accomplished and applied. Christ procured justification (and all the benefits of salvation) through his completed work in human history, but the Spirit does not apply justification to sinners until they are actually united to Christ by faith (WCF 11.4). Horton affirms this when he says that union with Christ is the ground of justification, but he denies it when he teaches that justification is the “judicial ground” of union with Christ. His scheme has many important practical implications that are beyond the scope of this review, but the material presented here is enough to enable Reformed readers to evaluate his position. This reviewer does not intend to draw logical conclusions from Horton’s teaching that Horton himself does not draw, but it does lead him to reject Horton’s adaptation of speech-act theory as compatible with a Reformed and biblical theology.

One remaining aspect of Horton’s Soteriology is worth mentioning. He teaches that God created man in a covenant relationship to Himself. While treating the creation covenant as simultaneous with creation has historical precedent in Reformed theology, Horton adds that this “covenant relationality” is essential to human nature (380, 384). He adds that the image of God in man “constitutes a covenantal relationship” (381). As far as this reviewer can discern, this covenant that he includes in the concept of the image of God is virtually synonymous with what is often called the Covenant of Works.

This raises several difficulties. First, Horton conflates the terms “covenant” and “relationship,” or “relational.” Covenant and relationship/relational are not synonyms. A covenant is a specific kind of relationship. I am related to cousins that I have never met, but I am in covenant with my wife and not with them. I have a relationship with a friend in the ministry, but I am neither related to him nor in covenant with him. It is possible to reply that these examples are valid with respect to human relations, but not to the relationship between man and God. This leads to the second liability of this position, which respects its potential consequences. If the Covenant of Works is integral to the concept of the image of God, then being renewed in God’s image in Christ would entail renewing the Covenant of Works in the hearts of the redeemed. If the creation covenant that Horton has in view is distinct from the Covenant of Works, then he adds a new covenant to Reformed covenant theology. If being the image of God “constitutes a covenantal relationship” (381) and this covenant is equivalent to the Covenant of Works, then this would exempt fallen humanity from the penalty of the Covenant of Works since man defaced the image of God by the Fall.

This view of the image of God shifts emphasis away from the position of the Westminster Shorter Catechism to the effect that the primary aspects of the image of God that man lost by the Fall consist in “knowledge, righteousness, and holiness” (Question 10). It is easy to understand how God renews knowledge, righteousness, and holiness in redeemed humanity in Christ. It is not as easy to grasp how He restores the image of God as a primeval covenantal relationship. God restores the image of God in man through a covenantal relationship (the Covenant of Grace), but He does not do so by restoring man’s original covenantal relationship to God (the Covenant of Works).

Conclusion

The Christian Faith is a useful book for summarizing and providing critical interaction with contemporary theology. Its primary deficiencies lie in Horton’s use of speech-act theory, the eastern essence/energies distinction, and his construction of the ordo salutis. However, readers should recognize that Horton’s work represents one example among a recent trend of shifting paradigms in Reformed theology. Reformed theology must address the questions and problems of the contemporary world in order to survive. Yet there is a fine line between adapting Reformed theology to the needs of a new generation and altering the substance of that theology in the process.




[1] Richard A Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, Ca. 1520 to Ca. 1725 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academics, 2003), vol. 1, throughout.
[2] See J. V. Fesko, The Christian’s Pocket Guide to Growing in Holiness (Geanies House, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2012), 67.
[3] For example, Richard Gamble restructures systematic theology along historical lines, making it difficult to find treatments of traditional loci. Douglas Kelly’s recent work is foreign in its organization and its plan sometimes lacks clarity. Richard C. Gamble, The Whole Counsel of God: Volume 1: God’s Mighty Acts in the Old Testament (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009); Douglas F. Kelly. Systematic Theology Volume One Grounded in Holy Scripture and Understood in light of the Church: The God Who Is: The Holy Trinity (Geanies House: Christian Focus Publications, 2008).
[4] Philip Dixon, Nice and Hot Disputes: The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Seventeenth Century (London: T&T Clark, 2003), 205-207.
[5] Gisperti Voetii, Selectarum Disputationum Theologicarum, Pars Prima (Utrecht, 1648). 472, 478. See also Johannes Hoornbeeck (1617-1666), Theologiae Practicae (Utrecht, 1663), 1:136.
[6] For example, J. Van Genderen and W. H. Velema, Concise Reformed Dogmatics (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008), 404, 409.
[7] Other controversial positions include his denial of days of ordinarily length in creation in favor of the so-called framework hypothesis and his adaptation of Meredith Kline’s version of a republished covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant.
[8] In his historical work on the relationship between union with Christ and justification, J. V. Fesko warns that replacing the traditional Reformed use of Aristotelian causation runs the risk of altering the system of theology. J. V Fesko, Beyond Calvin: Union with Christ and Justification in Early Modern Reformed Theology (1517-1700) (Göttingen; Bristol, CT: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), chapter two.
[9] Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 246-247.
[10] Robert Letham defends theosis if understood along these lines. Robert Letham, Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010), 91-102.
[11] Karl Christian Felmy, “The Development of the Trinity Doctrine in Byzantium: Ninth to Fifteenth Centuries,” Giles Emory and Matthew Levering, eds., The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 211, 221
[12] Peter van Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia. Qua, Per Singula Capita Theologica, Pars Exegetica, Dogmatica, Elenchtica & Practica, Perpetua Successione Conjugantur. (Trajecti ad Rhenum, & Amstelodami: Sumptibus Societatis, 1715), 792: "Nec proinde fidelis, per hanc unionem, Christificatur aut Deificatur, ut imprudenter olim Nazianzenus".
[13] Letham, Through Western Eyes, 112-113, 236-237.
[14] For representative samples, see 52, 689-672 (on glorification), 792, 815-817, 825.
[15] See Westminster Larger Catechism questions 77 and 86.
[16] This is likely why Westminster Larger Catechism question 39 states, “It was requisite that the Mediator should be man, that he might advance our nature . . .”
[17] Cite McCormack’s article.
[18] For example, see Colin E. Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2003), 30-55.
[19] Kelly M Kapic and Mark Jones, The Ashgate Research Companion to John Owen’s Theology (Farnham, Surrey, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012), 190.
[20] Ryan M. McGraw, ‘A Heavenly Directory:’ Trinitarian Piety, Public Worship, and a Reassessment of John Owen’s Theology (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, forthcoming), chapter two.
[21] Contra Letham, The Holy Trinity, 1, who states that most Reformed authors contributed little to trinitarian theology.
[22] 561. See 575, 706, 708, etc. where this language appears repeatedly.
[23] Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, 789; Edward Leigh, A Systeme or Body of Divinity Consisting of Ten Books, Wherein the Fundamentals and Main Grounds of Religion Are Opened ... (London: Printed by A.M. for William Lee ..., 1662), 487-488; Westminster Larger Catechism question 69: “The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and: whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.”
[24] Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, trans. William Crookshank (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), 1:344-390.
[25] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1955), 123: “Therefore what God does in this case is that he constitutes the new and righteous judicial relation as well as declares this new relation to be. He constitutes the ungodly righteous, and consequently can declare them to be righteous.” 125: “The constitutive act consists in the imputation to us of the obedience and the righteousness of Christ.” 
[26] Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, 790.
[27] Fesko, Beyond Calvin, 382.
[28] See Robert J. McKelvey, “’That Error and Pillar of Antinomianism’: Eternal Justification,” in  Michael A. G Haykin and Mark Jones, eds., Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates Within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism (Göttingen; Oakville, Conn.: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011), 233-262.
[29] Horton, The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 29.



This review article appeared first in Puritan Reformed Journal, vol. 5, no. 2, July 2013, 245-259.